The youngest exoplanet found by the Hubble telescope is the size of Jupiter (and still growing) - Beyond The World
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The youngest exoplanet found by the Hubble telescope is the size of Jupiter (and still growing)

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted its youngest exoplanet yet, a massive world 379 light-years from Earth that is still growing.

Planets form when dust and gas collide and condense in a circumstellar disk surrounding their star, slowly becoming a “ball.” Far out in the constellation Centaurus, Hubble has spotted a planet still coming together. According to Hubble experts, the young gas giant exoplanet, called PDS 70b, is “just” 5 million years old. While the planet is still gaining mass from the young star it orbits, it is already huge – nearly the size of Jupiter.

In a new study, scientists take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to investigate a planet like PDS 70b with Hubble’s telescope eye.

“This system is so exciting because we can witness the formation of a planet,” co-author Yifan Zhou, also of the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement. “This is the youngest bona fide planet Hubble has ever directly imaged.”

The disk around the star in the 70b system that’s feeding the exoplanet PDS 70b. (Image credit: ESO, VLT, André B. Müller (ESO))

The researchers were able to directly measure the mass growth rate of PDS 70b by utilizing Hubble’s ultraviolet light sensitivity, which allows them to see and measure radiation from the hot gas that falls into developing planets.

“Hubble’s observations allowed us to estimate how fast the planet is gaining mass,” Zhou said. This is the first time researchers have been able to measure the planet’s mass growth rate.

They were also able to directly photograph the planet and discovered that it appears to be approaching the end of its formation process.

Additionally, the team saw a number of “hot spots” glowing in ultraviolet light, which Hubble is attuned to detect. These hot spots, according to the researchers, are created by hot material that reaches down to the planet’s surface through magnetic field lines that extend from the planet’s atmosphere to the circumstellar disk of its star.

The exoplanet PDS 70b. (Image credit: MAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI) )

“If this material follows columns from the disk onto the planet, it would cause local hot spots,” Zhou said. “These hot spots could be at least 10 times hotter than the temperature of the planet.”

According to the statement, while Hubble has discovered over 4,000 exoplanets, only roughly 15 have been directly imaged. Furthermore, because they are so far away and small, most of the 15 exoplanets have appeared as dots in pictures.

“We just don’t know very much about how giant planets grow,” study author Brendan Bowler of the University of Texas at Austin, said in the same statement. “This planetary system gives us the first opportunity to witness material falling onto a planet. Our results open up a new area for this research.”

Researchers recognized in their statement that their observations of PDS 70b do not provide a complete picture of the exoplanet. More data is required to confirm the mass increase rate and further explore the planet. More research into PDS 70b can help shed light on how comparable gas giant planets form.

While studying PDS 70b,, researchers used a new technique that they think “paves a new route for further exoplanet research, especially during a planet’s formative years,” according to the statement. In this technique, Zhou removed the glare coming from the star in the PDS 70b system.

Stellar glare can make it difficult for scientists to study distant objects like this exoplanet, and researchers frequently have difficulty studying exoplanets that are near to their host stars. As a result of removing the glare, the team was able to get a clearer look at the planet, opening the way for future researchers to investigate planets that are closer to their home stars.

“Thirty-one years after launch, we’re still finding new ways to use Hubble,” Bowler added. ” With future observations, we could potentially discover when the majority of the gas and dust falls onto their planets and if it does so at a constant rate.”

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